Fordingbridge is a small town in Hampshire, on the northwestern edge of the New Forest national park. The town itself is mostly known for its 13th century bridge over the River Avon, but the nearby villages of Breamore and Rockbourne each have sights of their own, while the surrounding countryside offers some great outdoor pursuits.

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The River Avon and Great Bridge

The River Avon that flows through these parts is not the same river that Shakespeare’s Stratford is upon, nor is it the one that goes through Bath and Bristol. Avon is in fact a Celtic word meaning “river”, but the irony of naming several watercourses in their newly-conquered country “River River” was lost on the Anglo-Saxons. This Avon rises in the Wiltshire downs, flows lazily past Stonehenge and south through Salisbury to Fordingbridge, from where it meanders on to meet the sea near Christchurch.

There has been a crossing over the Avon here in the form of a ford or a bridge for longer than the records go back, but the current seven-arched stone Great Bridge was built in the 13th century, and widened and reinforced in the 19th. The bridge was once an important access point to the New Forest, so much so that the lord of the manor was for many centuries charged with ensuring no poachers smuggled venison out of the forest by means of the bridge.

The celebrated Welsh portrait artist Augustus John lived in the town for over 30 years until his death in 1961. Evidently he still inspires a good deal of local pride, as not only have they erected a statue to him, they’ve also named a pub and even a whole new neighbourhood after him.

Fordingbridge is a typical small Hampshire town, with a population of around 6,000. It was a market town in the medieval era, but those days of regional importance are far behind it. The laidback town centre is not especially lovely, but there are some old buildings of note such as the parish church and an Art Deco cinema. Most of the shops are independents rather than chains, making Fordingbridge a good place to shop for local produce.

North of Fordingbridge are two outlying parishes covered by this article that are definitely worth your time: Breamore has a Tudor mansion with several attractions on its estate; Rockbourne is an idyllic village that’s home to an excavated Roman villa.

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